08 Apr What to expect at a Fact Finding Hearing
Fact Finding Hearings are used by the courts to help the judge decide whether allegations made by a party are true or not in family law cases. The different types of allegations can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, racial abuse, and controlling or coercive behaviour, as well as any other behaviour that you may have found abusive to you. The aim of a Fact Finding Hearing is to get to the truth, to progress contact with any children involved in a safe manner, and remove any risks of abuse towards them.
An allegation is when one party claims that the other party has done something towards them which they deem to be immoral or wrong in some way. The judge involved in the case may decide that a Fact Finding Hearing is necessary to help decide whether the allegations are substantiated. They are commonly used in Children law cases but can also be used in divorce and financial cases. A Fact Finding Hearing may be ordered when allegations will affect the court’s final decision on the case and haven’t already been found to be true.
It is the judge’s decision as to whether such a hearing is necessary, but both parties can put their views on it across.
How to prepare for a Fact Finding Hearing
If it has been determined that a Fact Finding Hearing is necessary in your case, the court order will include details of what you need to do to prepare for it and deadlines. The party making the allegations will be asked to provide a list of all allegations they want the judge to decide upon, known as a Scott Schedule, which the other party will be able to respond to.
The Scott Schedule should list each separate allegation of abuse and the date it occurred. It should also reference a more detailed statement setting out the history of the relationship and the abuse experienced, with any supporting claims to back up allegations (such as GP or police reports). Allegations should be numbered and reference particular paragraphs in the accompanying statement which explain what happened in more depth.
The other party will then be able to respond saying whether they admit or deny each allegation, and referencing their own statement or schedule which they have prepared. You should make sure to revisit your statement a few times before the hearing to make sure what you say is consistent with what you’ve written.
If there has been Police involvement the courts can order the Police to disclose all information they hold which will include complaints, arrests, and/or any further involvement with either or both parties. If you’re representing yourself in court, you should prepare for cross examining the other party and think about the questions you want to ask to disprove any allegations or counter-allegations.
What happens at the Fact Finding Hearing
At the Fact Finding Hearing each party will explain their version of events both through their statement and/or verbally, and then be cross examined by the other party. The judge will listen to this evidence and may ask questions based on what you say and with reference to your statement and Scott Schedule. He or she will make a decision about each allegation in turn. It’s worth bearing in mind that your behaviour during a Fact Finding Hearing will also be taken into account.
The burden of proof is always on the party making the allegations and any evidence submitted to support claims must show that an event did or did not happen. As an example, if you are alleging that your ex physically abused you, you need to submit any evidence to prove this such as GP records, or photos of your injuries with proof of when the photo was taken. You can also call upon any witnesses to provide a statement. Conversely, if you’re the victim of allegations, you can submit evidence to disprove what the other party is alleging.
If allegations are found to be true during a Fact Finding Hearing they will be taken into account when the judge makes a final decision on the case. If there is not enough evidence to prove allegations, then they will be disproved.
After a Fact Finding Hearing
If you aren’t happy with the judge’s decision you can appeal if you believe the decision has been made based on error or if new evidence has emerged. There must be solid grounds for asking for an appeal, rather than just because you’re dissatisfied with the outcome. In addition, it isn’t guaranteed that the court will agree to an appeal. Otherwise, your case will proceed as normal.
Facing a Fact Finding Hearing can be a daunting prospect whether you’re the victim of untrue allegations or the one making the claims. It can also be a bit of a minefield if you’re representing yourself in court. Although I believe anyone can self-represent successfully, it’s really important to get some advice and support with preparing for a Fact Finding Hearing as making a mess of it can detrimentally affect your case.
To help you I’ve created an online course which goes into Fact Finding Hearings in depth, with an example of a Scott Schedule to examine. We’ll go through each allegation in the example in detail and consider what evidence could be used to support or disprove them – depending on your position. You’ll also learn how to handle possible responses to allegations and how to prepare your statement.
One of the main benefits of the course is being able to prepare a defence against abuse claims if you’re self-representing and are the victim of unfounded allegations.
The live course is running on 17 April 2021, but if you can’t make it live you’ll be able to access the recording on my Teachable page.
I hope you found this blog post helpful if you’re facing a Fact Finding Hearing and need some support. Please do share it with someone you know who might need the advice or comment below – I’d love to hear from you!
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